One of the best places to see stars in California (and the US) is Anza Borrega State Park due to its nationally recognized Dark Sky designation. This was one of the first cities given that dark sky title. Come here during a New Moon and see the galaxy overhead with your naked eye.
The park is relatively close to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree and is an easy day trip excursion or weekend camping trip from San Diego or Los Angeles. During the day, this place has plenty of locations to entertain any adventurer. It is best to plan a trip in the Spring or Fall due to the harsh desert climate.
The best part of this park is it is way less populated than the near by Joshua Tree National Park and back country camping is FREE. This is very different compared to camping in one of the larger national parks such as Yosemite which include entrance fees and camping only locations.
Favorite locations in the park:
The Slot (Slot Canyon) - 2 mile loop hike
You have probably seen the famous slot canyon hikes in Arizona and Utah. This hike is very similar to those trails. And to make it even better, this trail is way less populated and close to LA or SD city limits. You can also do a quick 1 mile out and back walk through the slot canyon in lieu of the full loop. Be sure to also check out the amazing perspective of the canyons from above.
Font’s Point Overlook - Vista Point
This isn’t really a hike but once you get here you can definitely explore. It is best to drive here in a 4x4 vehicle but it can be reached by car as long as it hasn’t or will not rain (the sandy terrain will quickly turn into mud and will ruin your trip). If the weather isn’t on your side, you can park off the main road and walk but it will add a nice long hike to the final destination. This is the ideal spot to camp and spend the night after catching an amazing sunset. This will also be a great spot to stargaze and catch the sunrise.
Galleta Meadows Sculptures
There are tons of unique structures placed throughout the park from a local artist.
Tip: These look very cool as foreground subjects if you are shooting astrophotography.
Borrego Palm Canyon - 3 mile loop
This hike will bring you to a plethora of palm trees in the middle of the desert. At the right time of the year this can be a nice little oasis with running water and even small waterfalls.
Clark’s Dry Lake
This is a scenic spot similar to the dry mud cracks you famous in Death Valley.
Tip - This spot is also a great foreground location for shooting astrophotography.